Language is an important attribute of a population, and has great
relevance and significance in a pluri-lingual and pluri-ethnic
land like India. The
Census of India has been the richest source of language data
collected and published at the successive decennial censuses for
more than a century. The language data is particularly useful in
the country having diverse people since no separate question is
asked on their ethnicity except in respect of the scheduled
tribes. The language data having the ethnic and linguistic
characteristics of the population has thus been an indiscreet
source of information. The presentation of the language tables has
been progressively improved in terms of lucidity, detail to make
it more comprehensible besides being user-friendly.
In the 2001 census, as in the previous censuses, the mother
tongue as returned by each individual was collected through
question number 10 of Household Schedule, which was canvassed for
the entire population of the country.
The question on mother-tongue and the relevant instructions
to enumerators were as follows: -
10 : Mother tongue
3.1 Mother tongue is the language spoken in childhood by the
person’s mother to the person. If the mother died in infancy,
the language mainly spoken in the person’s home in childhood
will be the mother tongue. In the case of infants and deaf mutes,
the language usually spoken by the mother should be recorded. In
case of doubt, the language mainly spoken in the household may be
3.2 Record mother tongue in full, whatever is the name of the
language returned by the respondent and
do not use abbreviations.
Please note the following:
(a) You are not expected to determine if the language returned
by a person is a dialect of another
You should not try to establish any relationship between
religion and mother tongue.
You are bound to record the language as returned by the
person as her/his mother tongue and
not enter into any argument with her/him and try to record
any language other
than what is returned, and
If you have reasons to suspect that in any area due to any
organised movement, the mother
tongue is not being truthfully
returned, you should record the mother tongue as actually
by the respondent and make a report to your supervisory officers
for verification. You
are not authorised
to make any correction on your own.
3.3 The mother tongue as returned by the respondent should be
recorded in full under this question.
3.4 Since a household may consist of persons related by blood
or of unrelated persons or a mix of both, it is absolutely
necessary to ask of every person about her/his mother tongue
because the mother tongue of each member of a household need not
necessarily be the same - these may be different for different
members in the household.
As the above instructions to the enumerator would show, the
respondent was made to feel free to return the name of his mother
tongue and the same was recorded faithfully by the enumerator.
This has led to the recording of a very large number of mother-
tongue names from all over the country. At the 2001 census, the
number of such raw returns of mother tongues has totaled 6,661. Since mother- tongues as returned in the census are basically
the designations provided by the respondents of the linguistic
mediums in which the respondents think they communicate, they need
not be identical with the actual linguistic mediums. For assessing
the correlation between the mother tongue and designations of the
census and for presenting the numerous raw returns in terms of
their linguistic affiliation to actual languages and dialects,
6,661 raw returns were subjected to thorough linguistic scrutiny,
edit and rationalization. This resulted in 1635 rationalized
mother tongues and 1957 names which were treated as
‘unclassified’ and relegated to ‘other’ mother tongue
category. The 1635 rationalized mother tongues were further
classified following the usual linguistic methods for rational
grouping based on available linguistic information.
Thus, an inventory of classified mother tongues returned by
10,000 or more speakers are grouped under appropriate languages at
the all India level, wherever possible, has been prepared for
final presentation of the 2001 mother tongue data.
The total number of languages arrived at is 122.
The 122 languages are presented in two parts viz.
included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India
comprising of 22
not included in the Eighth Schedule (Non-Scheduled Languages)
comprising of 100 languages plus the category “Total of other
languages” which includes all other languages and mother tongues
falling under Part B and which returned less than 10,000 speakers
each at the all India level or were not identifiable on the basis
of the linguistic information available.
Whereas the number of Scheduled languages was 18 at the
time of presentation of the 1991 census data, four more languages
viz. Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santali were added to the Eighth
Schedule with the passing of the 100th Amendment to the
Constitution of India in 2003, taking the total number of
Scheduled languages to 22 in 2001. Bodo, Dogri and Santali were
included in the list of Non Scheduled languages upto 1991 Census
and Maithili was a mother tongue grouped under Hindi upto 1991
The Non Scheduled languages are 100 in Part B in 2001
against 96 in 1991. The increase in number is due to inclusion of
Balti, Ladakhi, Shina (which were not returned in
sufficient number as Census was not conducted in Jammu &
Kashmir in 1991), Afghani/Kabuli/Pashto, Rai and
Simte (who have returned more than 10,000 speakers at the
all India level at 2001 Census), Tamang, Persian (which after a
gap has qualified in 2001 for having returned more than 10,000
speakers at the all India level). Mao language (which has been
consistently appearing till 1991 Census), could not be included in
the Non Scheduled languages in 2001 Census due to cancellation of
census results in Mao Maram, Paomata and Purul subdivisions of
Senapati district of Manipur state.
Of the total population of India, 96.56 percent have one of
the Scheduled languages as their mother tongue, the remaining 3.44
per cent is accounted for by other languages.
There are total 234 identifiable mother tongues which have
returned 10,000 or more speakers each at the all-India level,
comprising 93 mother tongues grouped under the Scheduled Languages
(Part A) and 141 mother tongues grouped under the Non-Scheduled
languages (Part B). Those mother tongues which have returned less
than 10,000 speakers each and which have been classified under a
particular language, are included in “others” under that
The presentation of the 2001 language data is based on the
same principles as those adopted for the 1971, 1981 and 1991
censuses. In addition, the speaker strength of all individual
mother tongues returned by 10,000 or more speakers have also been
given on the lines of 1991 census. The main table presented in
this volume is Table C-16
divided into Part A–Scheduled Languages and Part B–Non
Scheduled languages. This is preceded by the following 9
statements which present summarized data at a glance for the
convenience of data users.
1: Abstract of
speakers’ strength of languages and mother tongues - 2001
2: Distribution of
population by Scheduled and Other languages – India, States and
Union Territories -
3: Distribution of
10,000 persons by language - India, States and Union Territories -
languages in descending order of speakers’ strength - 2001
speakers’ strengths of Scheduled languages - 1971, 1981, 1991
rankings of the Scheduled languages in descending
order of speakers’ strength -
1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001.
7: Growth of the
Scheduled languages -1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001.
8: Growth of the
Non-Scheduled languages – 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001.
Family-wise grouping of the 122 Scheduled and Non-
Scheduled languages - 2001.